One of the biggest challenges that safety managers face in manufacturing is creating a safety culture within the organization. Making it a company-wide effort can certainly be an uphill battle, but it’s a policy that pays back with big rewards when it becomes part of a company’s DNA. Prioritizing safety not only prevents injuries, but it also enhances productivity, builds morale, and improves overall employee health.
A safety culture is the result of a shared vision about what constitutes a safe working environment, but it is also a core set of values and behaviors that stress safety as the priority. It’s the end result of the combined efforts of both individuals and the organization, where all levels of management commit to workplace safety. Taking safety seriously and encouraging a safety culture often starts with people in leadership, and then trickles down to every person in the company.
Ultimately, a safety culture in any organization is about a shared vision that involves every employee in the organization, but there are 8 critical factors involved in creating a safety culture in manufacturing.
1. Make Safety Part of the Day-to-Day Mindset
Safety should never be treated as if it was something separate from a company’s daily work habits. It’s not just a talking point discussed during weekly safety meetings or shift changes and then quickly forgotten. Safety is something that should permeate every aspect of company life. It’s a mindset or attitude that should be part of every decision and discussion.
It requires behavioral changes from the top levels of management to the manufacturing floor. Nurturing a genuine safety culture requires an ongoing commitment to replace unsafe practices and complacency with a proactive approach that prevents accidents.
2. Communication and Strong Working Relationships Are Key
Two essential components of an active safety culture in any organization are effective communication and strong working relationships where there is trust among employees at all levels. Mistakes and missteps happen, and they provide invaluable learning opportunities across the organization.
But that can’t happen without a basic level of trust.
When there is good communication and high levels of trust between employees and management, you are more likely to discover what happened, why it happened, and uncover ways to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Employees with good relationships with their managers are more likely to speak honestly and openly about safety shortcomings and solutions.
3. Reconsider Incentives and Penalties
Fostering an effective safety culture must go beyond incentivizing or penalizing employees. When employees are given rewards or penalties for safety, they’re more motivated to hide and underreport incidents, mishaps, and injuries because their either trying to be considered for an incentive or want to avoid being punished.
Safety can’t be about ticking the right boxes so that employees receive the reward (or don’t get penalized). This goes back to the safety mindset we’ve already discussed. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the success of your safety program, but you should be careful about using individual incentives or penalties. Recognize what’s being done every day to achieve a positive safety record.
4. Make It “Safe” to Identify Hazards
Employees need to feel free to speak up about safety issues without fear of retaliation or retribution. They should be encouraged to recognize safe and unsafe behavior and provide feedback. An effective safety culture develops when all employees are actively engaged in reinforcing good safety practices.
In addition, avoiding the blame game for near misses or incidents helps all involved to identify root causes and discover good solutions to correct at-risk behaviors, badly designed organizational systems, and common practices that need to be changed. Once behaviors and practices have been identified and corrected, it’s important to establish accountability, but not before problems have been discovered.
5. Establish A Process for Correcting Safety Issues
Employees at all levels need to understand the system or processes in place for reporting and correcting safety issues in the workplace. This helps to maintain good internal communication and establishes a solid safety culture where employees are committed to safety initiatives.
In addition, workers must be educated on the importance of reporting accidents, injuries, and even close calls. While training and accountability is important on established procedures, an emphasis on learning from mistakes is equally important.
6. Define Safety Responsibilities
It’s important for ALL employees to understand safety policies, safety goals, and the company vision in order to develop a safety culture. These are policies and procedures that should be clearly documented so that everyone understands the rules. Safety should be clear.
One system that a lot of manufacturers put in place is to assign a safety champion at each of their facilities to help build a safety culture at their location. The safety champion looks for areas of improvement, watches for safety hazards, makes sure employees are trained properly, and may even help to gather information during accident investigations.
7. Make Safety Culture a Team Effort
We talked about assigning a safety champion at each facility, but you can also take it a step further by developing a safety committee. The safety committee should be comprised of a good mix of people, from the leadership level to hourly workers. Each person on the safety committee would be able to offer different opinions and viewpoints of the safety challenges that your organization is facing. While the safety committee would likely exist at a higher level in your organization, your safety champions should definitely play a role at the team level.
8. Get Leadership on Board
In order for there to be a true safety culture in your organization, it must be supported from the top down. It’s critical for managers and manufacturing leaders at all levels to practice good safety and become safety leaders before they ask their workers to do the same. It’s not only about safety training, although that’s certainly important, its also about mentoring, assessment, and day-to-day safety practices.
It’s clear that one of the biggest hurdles that safety managers face in manufacturing is creating a safety culture within the organization. Developing a positive safety culture must go far beyond incentivization and become part of the manufacturer’s overall company culture in order to be successful.
Fostering that mindset and encouraging behavioral changes inside an organization, and across an entire workforce, can certainly be a challenge, but it’s definitely worth the effort and company commitment. Ultimately, a safety culture in any organization is about a shared vision that involves every employee in the organization.